Monday, May 7, 2012

Preparation for Marriage begins in our childhood

It came up again.  It was during the Liturgy and Spirituality class that the discussion veered into the hot topic of why separations and annulments are so rampant in the Catholic Church.  Fr McManus, our erudite professor was rather insistent that it was two sacraments that have seen great fallout in recent times.  They are, in his opinion, the sacraments of Reconciliation and Matrimony. 

My hand was sprung into action and shot up into the air to give my 2 Singapore cents worth of comment to this statement.  I felt that being the only ordained priest in the class, I had the experience behind me, to not only give an alternate opinion, but also to back it up my claims with concrete examples.  When I was given the nod to contribute, I had this to say: “Although the two sacraments you mentioned have experienced much negativity and a poor reception, one of the things that have caused this is due to the misunderstanding of what the Sacrament of Confirmation truly is.  It has been the greatest challenge of catechists and priests to get that part of life and faith formation right in order to prevent the later fallout which is almost bound to be seen in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Matrimony.”  The professor did not seem to be surprised. 

It was part of the course’s aim to uncover the spirituality behind each of the Sacraments of the Church celebrated in the Church’s rich Liturgical tradition, which ultimately serves to give each person encountering Christ in that sacrament to a richer and deeper mystical spiritual life.  This has always been the purpose of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, where two baptized Catholics, entering into a spousal union, become the means in and through whom each party becomes lifted to a higher level of union in Christ with the Holy Trinity.  In short, it is not just the notion of a life that is shared between Peter and Mary that is celebrated in Holy Matrimony.  Whilst this may be good and wonderful on the basic human level, the Church’s desire and aim is that in this sacred union, Peter and Mary become, as it were, the conduits through which each one lives their own baptismal life to the greatest level possible so that each one’s life becomes a living testimony of great holy union with God.  And they will do this when each one in the sacramental marriage become as loving as Christ, as forgiving as Christ, as selfless as Christ, and as single-minded in giving his or her entire self to the other in imitation of Christ who had given his entire self to the Father out of love, because the Father, as John 3:16 tells, had loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish by may have eternal life.

Admittedly, this does seem to be the “holy Grail” of married life, and would appear to be the Quixotic aim which for many many couples, for the most part may just remain an ‘impossible dream.’  But perhaps it is because most couples do not have the notion of just how utterly powerful and life-giving the persons of the Holy Trinity are for each other and for the existence of the entire universe that most have only a vague idea of what a true marriage is. 

What we get exposed to forms our ideas.  I don’t think that this statement can be refuted or dismissed as a generalization.  What do most couples going into marriage get exposed to?  Nowadays, these “exposures” would be the idea that a marriage is a wedding, and that it costs a lot to get married.  The dress has got some prime importance, and that the wedding day is the “bride’s day”, so she is at liberty to do just about anything she wants, including getting a standing ovation as she walks up the church’s aisle, exposing half her body to all and sundry in God’s house.  No one really pays much attention to the scripture readings at the Mass, and everyone is waiting for the supposed ‘big moment’ of the kiss (which is something that is non-existent in the rubrics of the liturgy of the Rite of Marriage but which many priests turn a blind eye to), and from that moment on, just about everyone in the church can’t wait for the Liturgy of the Eucharist to be over so that they can get to the next more important part of the wedding – the photographs and the eating and partying. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not a party pooper and I do think that there is a time for partying.  But if scant attention is paid by couples as to what a true marriage is constituted from, and whose image and likeness the marriage ‘body’ is called to imitate and draw its graces and spiritual energies on, it’s no wonder that so many marriages are going downhill from the wedding day on. 

There is really very little theology that people want to appreciate in marriage, and that is a shame, because it is when there is a proper and healthy understanding of where the marriage theology is drawn from, and where it is helping couples to aim towards, most couples will just coast along in their married life, and just hope that they can cope with the pains and struggles that will inevitably come about when married life is lived out. 

Our professor was lamenting that when he sees couples coming to him for marriage, there is just so much spiritual ‘slack’ that he needs to pull up just to get the couples to meet the Church at where Mother Church wants to meet them at the spiritual level when they get married.  Many Catholics are not even confirmed in their faith, and to ask for a Sacramental Marriage at that point does seem to show not only a deficient appreciation of the faith, but also a sad understanding of what a sacrament does to a person’s life. 

Am I convinced that there is a very great problem that the Church is facing when dealing with couples wanting to get married?  Without a doubt.  I am also convinced that one of the ways that this can be addressed is to form our youth well, but to be fair to them, the way that many of them have been educated and formed in life, parents and by their school systems often stymie the formation of hearts and minds that good catechesis tries to undertake.  If parents would supplement what catechesis does at home with constant and consistent discussion and reflection on the part that God plays as a central role of life, it will go a long way in getting youth to centre their lives in a more grounded way. 


  1. morning fr Luke

    the more impt thing for most married couples to be is the decor in the church and the photoshoots.. at and prior before the matrimony mass.. the couple pay a GREAT lot of attention to such cos any poop-poops will create a cuckos to their friends, relatives etc.. the mass itslf.. nay not so impt lah.. just an hour or so.. just make sure everyone just dress to the occasion and sing properly enough ..

    I can understand y they dun pay much attention to the mass.. cos Most .. I can Most catholics do not have a personal relationship with God.. Therefore mass it just a mere ritual.. nothing more nothing less.... even for me sometimes too!! sadly sometimes our protestant Brethens are much better in their faith.. . a better example for us to emulate..

    question is why married in church? many reasons lah.. church looks nice.. esp aircon parish like IHM, SFX .. etc.. not the non aircon type.. like SPP..parents pressure.. "hey girl ah.. u must married in church.. ah cos u we are all catholics!! if not what our relatives will say?? even though the girl or boy is just a nominal catholic or once a year catholic.. and i believe Fr Luke will agree with me on this..

    Though I'm not a priest.. but having seen thru my observation.. i think i'm quite right.. and i expect after this comments.. flames or darts at me..

  2. Dear FR Luke,

    It all started on Monday 1 Sep 2008 as I went into my first confession as a Catholic, in preparation for my daughter's baby baptism. And you said that God can write straight with crooked lines, as long as we recognize they are crooked. It was etched in my mind and I relished the wedding masses which you presided over, be cause your homilies always gave me new insights on the Sacrament of Matrimony and how great a gift it is. Especially as it reflects the real marriage between Christ the groom and his bride, the Church. And how important it is for the B(b)ride to be pure and spotless for her G(g)room.

    God bless!

  3. I agree with you, Fr Luke.

    My wife and I are unfortunately those kiasu parents who felt my daughter should excel in school and in CCA. It was OK to skip masses to study for exams (although we live 5 mins from the church). We argued with the priests because we didn't want our girl to miss her piano lessons for some dull and boring confirmation camp. My daugther thought the friends in her catechism class were dumb and the catechist a bore. As she grew up as a youth, we gave her total freedom. After all, she was a sensible and intelligent girl. We convinced ourselves that she would find her faith at her own time.

    When it was time to get married, her boyfriend then (a non-Catholic) insisted that they were not going to wed in church. We went along with the decision as we didn't want her wedding to be halted because of our insistence of a church wedding.

    It didn't take long for us to realise our mistake. While our marriage was held together by a common faith and if you like, by fear of God, my daugther's was not. Her marriage is unravelling. They have had the most beautiful wedding but they have the faintest idea what the sacrament of matrimony is. If only we had brought our child up properly grounded in the faith. If only we knew confirmation was more important than the sweet piano music.

  4. Hi Fr Luke

    I agree that spiritually is something that is formed in childhood, especially if one goes to a mission school and attends cathechism and masses. While form - in terms of attending mass and going to confession and even getting married is important, I believe that substance - an overall spiritually and catholic conscience - is more important.

    It is not always easy to balance between conflicting goals of say studying or work and the obligation to go to mass. I acknowledge that things could have been better. I know when I started work, I worked long hours, even through weekends and was often more concerned with staying alive rather than going to mass. I remember hating cathechism classes and often skipping them especially when I had a tonne of work to do and music to study. Hard work often pays off and I exceled at my studies and music. As a result, I did try and give back when I was older by being active in church and choir for more than a decade. With the good influence of the priests and church friends, it was easy to walk in the faith. However, this faith was tested when I went overseas minus all the protective factors that were present before. But through it all, the fact that I was a catholic did often influence the decisions I made based on what appeared to be the best choice in the circumstances I was in at the present time.

    Life is unpredictable. No matter how hard it is, I believe that everyone will find their faith at their own time, when there is something to be grateful for, in sickness, at times of crisis, or even at death's door.


  5. The important thing to remember is that EVERY Catholic marriage is supposed to be a reflection (albeit a faint one)of the spousal love of Jesus for HIs bride, the church. This is a point I keep hammering into the minds of my children every so often. All married Catholics need to keep this in mind - in good times and in bad. Especially in the bad.

    Tears? Oh yes, there will be tears (hopefully not too many) - and I can attest to that. But we are made stronger for the fact that we soldiered on; and with God's grace our marriage will age beautifully, like a fine wine.

    As a husband of 26 years I can say with all certainty that my wife and I are more in love today than when we were first married. Can I take any credit for this? No. It is ONLY in and through God's grace that this is possible; for nothing is impossible to God.

    Peace and Joy,

  6. Clueless at our weddingMay 9, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    I was a non-believer and I was dating a Catholic girl for a few years. When I pop the "Will you marry me?" question, her first response was, "I will PROVIDED we are getting married in church and that we raise our children in the Catholic faith." I was dumbfounded. Never during my courtship days had I once seen or heard her going for Sunday worship, and here she was wanting to solemnise her wedding in front of the crucifix. Wanting to please her, I agreed.

    Out of curiousity, I asked her why she insisted on the church wedding since she had obviously backslided when we dated. Her reply was simple. She knew from her catechism that getting married in church was "right thing to do before God" for Catholics, backslided or not. She also said it was a "sacrament" - a word which I didn't understand then.

    Looking back, I could honestly say I was clueless of the happenings in church. I was there because I wanted to marry this girl. I also didn't think my wife-to-be knew too much about the theology of marriage. As we looked back on our wedding day, we truly believed that the good news, perhaps the only one, was that she insisted on the church wedding. All this was possible because she had good faith formation during her childhood, and most importantly, the Holy Spirit was guiding her even after she "left" the church.

  7. I find myself nodding at sf comments. My son and daughter-in-law work long and erratic hours and travel alot. They do not always attend mass. However I can see they are sensible and intelligent people with loads of compassion. There is spiritually and catholic conscience. Do I think they have lost their faith? No. It's there. It will come in it's own time with God's soft prompting. I am touched by Cluess sharing that a seeming absent catholic girl will insist on getting married in church. Just sow seeds, they are there in the heart, you never know when they will grow.

  8. Do we bring up our children with constant reminders that what they do is through the grace of God and that they should yearn for the Sacrament of Confirmation as this will set them on the righ path; or do we simply give our children the freedom, the freedom to...?

    Below is an interesting read for those who says freedom to choose is important.

  9. ‘’ This has always been the purpose of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, where two baptized Catholics, entering into a spousal union, become the means in and through whom each party becomes lifted to a higher level of union in Christ with the Holy Trinity........’’ I like this because it is clearly tells us that God has to be the ‘third’ party in any Catholic marriage.

    Sometime ago, invited to a Catholic wedding and out of curiosity, I asked this relative of mine why he was marrying and without hesitation he said ‘’to find happiness and that she makes me happy and I want to call her mine.’’ (not that there is anything wrong in that!) I was happy for him that he had found a life-partner but a bit sad too because his view was a tad short-sighted.

    I think he really feels he will be truly happy when he is able to possess another but in reality this will never be – coz nobody can be truly and completely possessed as each of us belongs to God and so there is that part in each of us that is not completely accessible to the other – no matter how deeply we love the other. Perhaps that’s why some writer said, “ ....even after the thrill of the capture, there is the deep sense of not having the prey........’’

    And that’s why God has to be the ‘third’ party in any Catholic marriage as marriage is a living relationship that is constantly changing and evolving and needs to have a rootedness in Him.

    God bless you, Fr